While I am satisfied with the players Jurgen Klinsmann has chosen for his 23-man World Cup roster, there is one gaping hole that is both shocking and worrisome: the exclusion of 32-year-old Landon Donovan.
Ever since Klinsmann came into the picture for the United States Men’s National Team in 2011, his relationship with Landon Donovan has been shaky. When Donovan passed the 30-year mark and his commitment to soccer and the national team came into question, he took a hiatus from the sport and suffered a temporary exit from the national team.
We wondered, “Will Donovan come back? Will he ever be part of the American plan?” While fans still speculated, tensions and rumors about the coach and player’s relationship seemed reconciled when a string of solid performances in the 2013 Gold Cup crowned Donovan as tournament MVP and the USA as champions.
Donovan was back. So it seemed. While the American Hero and Coach Klinsmann’s relationship was never amazing, fans felt that this was a new page - a fresh start.
Going into the 2014 MLS season, Landon Donovan was tied for most MLS goals ever, a record soon to be broken. Two months later, however, the talisman has yet to hit the back of the net, and questions of his form and ability are festering.
In the midst of this period during a friendly against arch-rivals Mexico, Donovan was left on the bench for the first half. While he and the staff claimed it was due to a recent injury and precaution, spectators were left to wonder the true intentions behind the substitution.
In press conferences, Donovan has released some questionable statements about his fitness and ability to train. His age limits him and his physical ability might not be what it used to - more so than we may know. It has been Donovan’s statements that have left me scratching my head, wondering why he would make comments like this, and questioning whether his passion for the game is still there.
In recent weeks, Klinsmann has commented on his expectations of Landon and his performance - a distinctive added pressure on the veteran.
Klinsmann is locked up until 2018. He knows that he will have the 2018 tournament in Russia to compete in, and he is looking to the future. This would be Donovan’s final World Cup, and Klinsmann has cut the cord. Some surprise inclusions such as Timothy Chandler, John Anthony Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, and Julian Green may raise some eyebrows, but these choices demonstrate the message Klinsmann is sending. He is giving the youngsters a chance in order to gain experience and prepare for the future. A changing of the guard.
Klinsmann came into the American scene in 2011 and has undoubtedly thrust US Soccer miles ahead. However, at the end of the day, even in a cut throat, international sport, loyalty still exists. Not blind loyalty, but trust-trust in a player whose vision, technical ability, passion and accomplishments have earned him the title of the greatest American soccer player ever.
Landon Donovan may be aging, but he still has fire to burn, a veteran perspective of leadership, a World Cup record, and a skill set our US team desperately need. Klinsmann doesn’t possess that trust in Donovan; therefore, the American soccer fan is left to question trust in Klinsmann.